The policy on Sunday night was “no lights out.”
That meant that the lights in Bishop Alvin R. Dyer’s office in the Monument Park Ward meetinghouse would not be turned off until he had received a report from the youth leaders on the activity of every young member of his ward. Then, when problems came up, something was done about them. Today Elder Dyer is an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and most of those young people have their own responsibilities in the Church, but his close relationships with them and his real concern about their lives are very much a part of what they have become.
“No lights out” was just one phase of a broad program for young people that Elder Dyer oversaw at that time. (He served as bishop from 1948 to 1954, when he was called to preside over the Central States Mission.) He involved the youth in numerous ward projects, meetings, and activities, preparing them for missions, temple marriage, and leadership in the Church.
“The young people were important,” says Elder Dyer, “not just fixtures. When you give young people attention, they become interested; and when they become interested, they’re wonderful.”
“I didn’t realize there was a ‘program,’” says Henry B. Eyring, whom Elder Dyer calls “one of our very fine priests” and who is now president of Ricks College. “I just knew that I was treated warmly and never felt I was being helped.” President Eyring remembers that Elder Dyer made him feel his help was needed and that he was important.
“Once Elder Dyer asked me to go with him to visit a sister who was on welfare,” he says. “He took me in his car, and before we went into the sister’s home we had a prayer together. I expected he would comfort and reassure her; instead he counseled her about how she should budget and what she should do to overcome her difficulties. I thought he really needed my help in assignments such as this, but in the process I was helped and taught.”
“Elder Dyer was a big thinker; he had big deals going and was not content just doing simple things,” says another former member of the ward, David Horne, now an engineer and seventies president in his ward. Brother Horne remembers having special heart-to-heart interviews with Elder Dyer and that he could call his people to repentance with love.
“Elder Dyer was also concerned about getting the young people out to meetings,” he says. “One year George Romney (son of President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency) was presented a sticker for 100 percent attendance at meetings. I was a deacon at that time and resolved that I would do it too. For the rest of my time in the Aaronic Priesthood I had 100 percent attendance, and I hadn’t been an ardent attender before that.”
Elder Dyer remembers a time when his priests quorum decided to hold their quorum meeting at one inactive young man’s home. He wasn’t sure it was the best idea, but went along with them on the project. When the boys knocked on their friend’s door, they saw him helping his mother clean the house. “When his mother came to the door she just about fainted,” Elder Dyer remembers. “Eddy Kimball (President Spencer W. Kimball’s son) went to the piano and started playing ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,’ and we held priests class in their home. The inactive priest never missed a meeting after that, and he became a bishop.”
Many of the young men remember scripture contests and other activities that prepared them for missionary service. Not long ago Elder Dyer met one of his former priests, Charles Stratford. Brother Stratford still had in his billfold a pledge card that was given to him by the other priests when he came into the quorum. It listed the pledge to live clean and study the gospel and had the 13th Article of Faith printed on it. In addition, Brother Stratford still has an “IP” book Elder Dyer encouraged the priests to keep. “IP” stands for Instant Preparation; the book included scriptures and quotations.
Elder Dyer passed on his concern and some of his methods to the officers and teachers in his ward. Lureen Wilkinson, a former member of the Primary general board, served for a time under him as president of the YWMIA. She recalls that he made her feel he had given her the most important assignment in the ward. “We would have turned upside down to do what he asked,” she says. “I was always impressed with the personal interest he had in each teacher and in each girl.”
Although it’s been 25 years since Elder Dyer served as a bishop, the principles he used are always viable. A close relationship between a bishop and the youth of his ward is basic. The bishopric, which presides over the Aaronic Priesthood quorums, is expected to be in attendance at the quorum meetings each Sunday. Thus, bishops today find out through firsthand experience whether or not the young men are in their meetings.
Activity of young people in the Church today continues to be a vital concern to ward leaders, just as it was to Elder Dyer when he was a bishop. Today one of the groups involved in youth activity is the ward Aaronic Priesthood Committee, which includes the bishopric, quorum presidencies, assistants to the president of the priests quorum (the bishop is the president), the director of the Aaronic Priesthood, the quorum advisers, and the ward Aaronic Priesthood secretary. In this regard, youth leadership are encouraged to present ideas, just as Elder Dyer’s priests decided to take their meeting to one of their members.
Bishop Dyer stressed yearly interviews, a responsibility given to bishops today. Bishops interview each young member of their wards once a year, near the time of their birthdays, when they set goals for the coming year. The bishop’s counselors have the responsibility to conduct “six-month” interviews with the young men.
Youth or “peer” leadership is vital to the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women today. As in Elder Dyer’s experience, this helps the young people develop skills needed for future Church leadership. Closely connected to this principle is the one of solving problems and adapting to situations on the local levels rather than turning to sources on the general Church levels.
One of the top goals that Elder Dyer had was to help all the young men in his ward to be worthy of receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood at the proper time and to eliminate inactive over-age Aaronic Priesthood holders. Today it is the responsibility of the bishop’s second counselor to see that all deacons advance at the proper time, the duty of his first counselor to see that all teachers advance, and the personal concern of the bishop that all priests are moved on to the Melchizedek Priesthood when they reach the proper age. This means, of course, that the young men must be worthy. The Aaronic Priesthood is truly to be preparatory to the Melchizedek Priesthood, which includes the responsibility and privilege of mission service and temple marriage.
“No lights out” isn’t a Church program today. For that matter, it was not a Church program when Elder Dyer practiced it. But the close contact methods he used can help bishoprics today to reach and hold the youth.